Monday, March 05, 2007

soweto : spiritual capital of south africa

After getting a letter from Priest Msimangu, Stephen Kumalo starts his journey from his village town to Johannesburg in search for his missing son Absalom and during this mission, he discovers his sister Gertrude who has become prostitute, brother John – a carpenter and learn about his son Absalom murdering white fighter of racial justice Arther Jarvis who happens to be son of his neighbour. Novelist Alan Paton created these characters from social milieu of pre Apartheid regime in his novel ‘Cry the Beloved Country’. This book was prescribed as a syllabus for English subject for my intermediate science. It was beyond my reach to read this book in English – so I managed to buy Marathi translation of this book and answered my examination paper in English.

Little did I know then that after so many years, like Kumalo, I would also visit the very same place and rediscover the essence of South Africa and its struggle to come out of clutches of Afrikaans speaking white rulers. In the process, I became familiarized with social and political setting in which people like Walter Sisulu, Nelson Mandela. Albert Luthuli, Desmond Tutu carved out a birth of a nation through throes of human sufferings. I also learnt about an event, which would become cornerstone in the history of South Africa’s apartheid struggle much the same way Jallianwala Bagh Massacre did in India.

On June 16th 1976, an innocuous protest march by school students against compulsory enforcement of Afrikaans language turned into brutal carnage of 500 innocent students. One of the victims was Hector Peterson who became the symbol of the South African struggle. Ms. Pulange, who had marched with all those students on that fateful day of June 16th, took us around the historical sights of SoWeTo. Listening to her story and traversing on the same streets as those of students, being at the very place –where children were mauled, bloodied and eventually succumbed to police bullets was a moving experience. Walking on a street that housed two Nobel laureates, Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela, being inside first and original home of Nelson Mandela too was equally an enriching experience. And in that tour of five hours I came across many diverse characters similar to the one in novel in similar settings. Being Saturday, I was also fortunate to witness glimpse of wild wedding celebration, weird funeral procession of a slain gangster. The culmination of visit happened with tasting of traditional South African food at 'wandies' restaurant that has been visited by Richard Branson, Boxer Hollyfield, Soccar star Rudd Guliitt.

SoWeTo – stands for south western township- was built by whites, exclusively for blacks and Indians after a spread of bubonic plague in Johannesburg. My imagination of SoWeTo was similar to that of transit camp built in Bombay for people who are displaced during rains or riots. But this is a city, a huge sprawling city in excess of over a million population with medical school and university. The streets beehive with people – walking, selling, some just rummaging, some screaming, yelling, laughing and some huddled together praying or counselling but they are everywhere. One can never be lonely in SoWeTo. Each residential block reflects economic prosperity. Newcomer migrant have shacks made up of Tin and Cardboard, established ones have brick with asbestos roof and some blessed ones have brick, mortar painted walls and courtyard. Government spending on SoWeTo is visible with facilities of sanitation and power supply so is the visibility of Christianity in the form of churches. Neighbourhood of Nelson and Winnie Mandela’s house must be Beverly Hills of SoWeTo. There is a plaque outside his house that says’ A man is not a man till he owns a house ‘.

SoWeTo is an aorta of South Africa that supplies essential gradients of its life sustenance. Noble Laureate or Robbers ,Illegal migrant labourers or well dressed articulate African professional workers, both trace their origin to SoWeTo. SoWeTo is truly spiritual capital of South Africa.

I am glad that FIFA South Africa office is being built there and so would be the finals of 2010 world cup finals. This would be fitting tribute to the legacy of SoWeTo by bringing it to the notice of billions of TV viewers.

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Anonymous Katie M. said...

I think you are right by saying that having the World Cup around SoWeTo will bring more light to the world of the history related to this place.

Also, you have helped me to better understand SoWeTo. I have heard some of this area but it was limited. Thanks!

9:55 AM  
Anonymous makarand said...

You bring the world closer... Amazing and truly remarkable place.

Thanks and cheers :)

6:33 AM  
Anonymous sanjeev said...

Your language is very good and the flow is great. Keep up this good writing style.


2:53 AM  
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8:43 PM  

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